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Ontology Engineering Group, Universidad Politcnica de Madrid
Madrid, Spain

When Phraseology and Ontologies Meet

Introduction: Phraseology in Natural Language Processing Applications
In the field of Languages for Specific Purposes, phraseology plays a central role since its mastering is crucial for
the different users that deal with specialized languages, from professionals of a domain to linguist experts
(terminologists, translators, communication mediators, etc.). According to Aguado de Cea (2007), phraseology
can be defined as: the linguistic discipline that deals with the combination of words, (), or the set of
phraseological units or phrasemes of a certain specialized language. In any case, phrasemes or lexical
combinations are not only necessary for an adequate specialized communication, but they are also fundamental
in the understanding of a certain domain of knowledge, together with terms and the concepts underlying terms.
Therefore, from a cognitive point of view, phraseology can provide valuable insights in knowledge extraction.
Recent research on Natural Language Processing (NLP) has also benefited from the application of phraseology
to the acquisition of knowledge from corpora. If certain combinations of words allow a successful communication
in a specific domain, they will also enable a successful acquisition of related knowledge. Research on NLP is not
generally interested in specialized collocations, but it rather pays attention to those grammatical collocations that
can be used to extract domain information in a semi-automatic or automatic way. In this paper, we will focus on
those in which verbs are the central element in the phraseme, in that they also establish relations among several
knowledge units. This kind of collocations have received several denominations in Terminology, such as
knowledge patterns (Meyer, 2001), conceptual relation patterns (Condamines, 2002), or linguistic markers
(Feliu and Cabr, 2002). In all these cases they have been used for speeding up the process of terminology
extraction. For example, the combination of the lexical items are types of will be related to information about
subcategories or subclasses of a certain concept. Consequently, if we introduce them in a knowledge extraction
tool and search in a description text about sensors, the results obtained could show different categories or types
of sensors, such as thermal, electromagnetic or chemical sensors.
However, in Terminology, not only are the concepts underlying terms important, but also how these terms are
related to each other, what is represented by the so-called conceptual relations. Feliu (2004: 27) has defined
conceptual relations as elements that link two or more specialized knowledge units in a particular subject field.
In her work she analyzes the verbal phraseology of the Catalan language that expresses some of the most
common conceptual relations, in order to apply them in terminology extraction (cf. Feliu and Cabr, 2002). In the
same line, Marshman et al. (2002) focused on the identification of knowledge patterns in French for conveying
some of the most usual relations in Terminology: hyperonymy (est un / type de / forme de [is a/type of/form of]),
meronymy (consiste en / partie de / comporte [consist of/part of/includes]), and function (utilise pour / permet /
function [is used for/allows/function]). In Computational Linguistics, Hearst (1992) introduced the concept of
Lexico-Syntactic Patterns (LSP) to refer to some linguistic markers that enabled the identification of
hyperonymy-hyponymy relations between concepts for accelerating the compilation of large lexicons. The set of
LSPs that this researcher identified had the following characteristics: (1) they were directly extracted from texts,
and (2) they had as main elements prepositional phrases, paralinguistic signs or conjunctions (but not verbs).
E.g.: such as, or other, including.
As we can see, the idea of automatically discovering related terms assuming a direct correspondence between
lexical structures and conceptual or semantic relations (as Condamines (2002) also argued in her paper) appears
recurrently in different disciplines. Unfortunately, this correspondence is not always true. Therefore, this poses
some challenges to NLP researchers: the first one has to do with the efforts devoted to the discovering of reliable
linguistic patterns that correspond to conceptual relations across domains and genres; and the second is related
with language ambiguities (because of polysemy, for example), that have, as a consequence, the identification of
various conceptual relations from the same linguistic pattern. In the following, we will explain how we attempt at
contributing to the Ontology Engineering field with the use of Lexico-Syntactic Patterns, that we have redefined for
our purposes as linguistic schemas or constructs derived from recurrent expressions in natural language that
consist of linguistic and paralinguistic elements that follow a certain syntactic order, and that permit to extract
some conclusions about the meaning they express (Aguado de Cea et al., 2008). Then, we will focus on one of
the most relevant ontological relation, the subclass of relation, and will present our proposals for facing the
challenges that this relation raises because of the disparities between the lexical structures and the subclass of
relation in an ontology. Finally, we will present the conclusions and some future lines of work.

Lexico-Syntactic Patterns in Ontology Engineering

Ontologies are one of the central research subjects in Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge Engineering, since
they allow to represent knowledge for machines and to add semantics to the information in the Web. Moreover,
ontologies represent a domain of knowledge by defining the concepts of that domain and the relations among
them. So far, work on ontology development could be identified with terminology work. However, ontologies go
some steps further, in the sense that definitions of concepts and relations among them are formalized, which
means that they are made understandable also to machines. And last but not least, the knowledge represented in
an ontology captures the consensual knowledge of a community of domain experts. This has been summarized
by Studer (1998: 161) in one of the most cited definitions that states that an ontology () is a formal, explicit
specification of a shared conceptualization. Broadly speaking, an ontology consists of four main components:
concepts, attributes, relations and instances. Concepts identify types or classes of objects. Attributes refer to
features or characteristics that define objects. Relations represent dependencies between concepts, or how
concepts relate to each other. Instances are specific, real objects that belong to a certain class of objects.
As in Terminology, ontology development requires the discovery of the concepts of a specific domain, their
properties, how they are related to each other, and the instances that belong to the identified concepts. Since this
is a resource demanding and time consuming activity, many efforts have also gone to the automatic acquisition of
the different ontology elements from free text. For this purpose, LSPs have been applied to extract ontology
elements in order to speed up ontology development. Some researchers in this field (Snow 2004, Cimiano 2007
among others) have extended the original set of Hearsts patterns with additional ones that express hyponym
relations, or new ones expressing relations such as meronymy, agency, cause, etc., for automatically enriching or
populating ontologies from texts. Some patterns were similar to Hearsts ones, that is, not verb-centred, others
had verbs as main elements. However, no research has been oriented to the identification and use of those LSPs
equivalent to ontology relations with the aim of helping naive users in ontology development.
In this paper, we will also concentrate on verb-centred linguistic patterns, in line with Feliu and Cabr (2002) and
Marshman et al. (2002).The main objective of this research is to create a repository of LSPs associated to the
ontological relations they express. This repository will be stored in a system that will permit to identify when a
sentence introduced by the user corresponds to an LSP, and in its turn, to an ontological relation, thus helping the
user to construct an ontology. An overview of the system for automatically recognizing ontological relations is
outlined in FIGURE 1. This system is currently being developed within the European Project NeOn .

FIGURE 1. Overview of the System for LSP recognition.

Ontological Relations
Ontological relations, as they are understood in Ontology Engineering, can be divided into three main groups:
taxonomic, meronymic and non-taxonomic relations. Taxonomic relations are hierarchical or inclusion relations,
i.e., those that allow subordinate concepts to inherit the properties of the superodinate concept they belong to.
They are also known as hyponymy or subclass of relations. Meronymic relations are the ones that hold between
an object and its parts, also known as part-whole relations. The rest of ontological relations (ad-hoc relations of
a specific domain) are considered non-hierarchical relations, for instance, function or cause-result relations.
In this paper, we want to approach one of the most significant relations both in Terminology and in Ontology
Engineering, the subclass of relation. This is a fundamental relation whenever we want to organize the

knowledge of a domain, and, in fact, it is the basic relation in the science of classification, i.e. taxonomy. Any
concept related to another by the hyperonymy-hyponymy relation is said to inherit the properties of the
hyperonym and has additional ones that specify it. This is also the basic idea behind the Aristotelian definition. Let
us take as example the concepts sensor and thermometer. We can say that a thermometer inherits the
properties of the sensor in that it is a device that measures a physical quantity and converts it to a signal, and
specifies it by saying that the thermometer measures temperature.
Lexico-Syntactic Patterns for the Subclass of relation
In most ontology paradigms, the ontological relation subclass of indicates that a class is a specialization of
another class (Gmez-Prez et al., 2003: 49). In natural languages, this relation is present in definitions and
realized linguistically, for instance, by means of the combination is a(n), as in A thermometer is a sensor
that (). In this sentence, the hyponym or subclass is the concept on the left-hand side of the verb, and the
hypernym or superclass is on the right-hand side. By identifying the most used linguistic constructs that a
language has for representing this kind of relation and including them in the LSP repository, we will allow users to
express the subclass of relations present in their knowledge domain in full natural language (NL), and
automatically model it in an ontology with the system previously outlined in FIGURE 1.
If we have a look at the following sentences in English, we will see that they establish a subclass of relation
among the concepts in the sentence.
1. An orphan drug is a type of drug.
2. Membrane proteins are classified into two major categories: integral proteins and peripheral proteins.
We observed that the lexico-syntactic structures presented above appear recurrently across domains, and we
decided to formalize them as LSPs. In TABLE 1 we include the LSPs representing these structures, and some
additional ones we have identified for the English language. Some of the symbols and abbreviations used in the
formalization of LSPs have been included below for the sake of readability.
LSP-Subclass of-English

LSP Identifier



[(NP<subclass>,)* and] NP<subclass> be [CN] NP<superclass>

[(NP<subclass>,)* and] NP<subclass> (group in|into|as) | (fall into) | (belong to) CN


NP<superclass> CATV [CD] [CN] [PARA] (NP<subclass>,)*and NP <subclass>

NP<superclass> be divide in|into | split | separate in|into [either] NP<subclass> or NP<subclass>

There are CD CN NP<superclass> PARA [(NP<subclass>,)* and] NP<subclass>

Odometry, speedometry and GPS are types of sensors.

Thyroid medicines belong to the general group of hormone medicines.

Membrane proteins are classified into two major categories, integral proteins and peripheral

Sensors are divided into two groups: contact and non-contact sensors.

There are two types of narcotic analgesics: the opiates and the opioids.

Symbols and abbreviations:

NP= Noun Phrase + semantic role between < >
CATV = Verbs of Classification. This group includes verbs as: classify in/into,
categorize in/into, sub-classify in/into, etc.
CD = Cardinal Number
CN= Class Name. This group includes: class of, group of, type of, member of, etc.

PARA = Paralinguistic symbols

( ) = groups two or more elements
* = repetition
[ ] = optional elements

TABLE 1. LSPs for the subclass of ontological relation

As has been mentioned, the linguistic structures presented above correspond to the ontological relation subclass
of. However, from an ontological perspective it is recommendable to further specify this basic hierarchical relation
by adding knowledge about disjointness and exhaustiveness of the hyponyms with regard to the hypernym.
Disjointness is generally understood in ontological modelling as the property of two classes of not sharing
subclasses or individuals. If we analyse sentence number 2, Membrane proteins are classified into two major
categories: integral proteins and peripheral proteins, we should further determine whether integral proteins and
peripheral proteins are two completely different groups and do not share any individuals, in other words, whether
a protein belonging to the integral proteins group can also belong to the peripheral proteins class, or not.
Exhaustiveness has to do with the property of a set of classes that belong to a superclass and include all
individuals that belong to that superclass, without exclusion of any of them. Considering again sentence 2, we

should also specify whether these two types of membrane proteins are the only types or groups in which
membrane proteins can be divided, or if there is an additional type of membrane proteins.
The reason for this further specification of the "subclass of" relation has to do with ontology consistency. Taking
into account that applications based on ontologies are able to reason with the information contained in ontologies,
it is advisable to enrich the subclass of relations established in the ontology with information about disjointness
and exhaustiveness to guarantee consistency checking and automatic evaluation of the elements contained in the
ontology. To put it in other words, that sort of information helps checking if the ontology has been correctly
instantiated. However, users who are not experts in ontology engineering are simply not aware of the fact that if
they do not explicitly declare this kind of knowledge2, some inconsistencies can result when reasoning with the
ontology. For example, if subclasses are not declared to be disjoint, they may be considered to overlap, i.e., to
share individuals. Both specifications of the subclass of relation may be implicit in the sentence, but they have to
be made explicit in ontologies. In this sense, there have been some initiatives in order to automatically extract
knowledge about disjointness from the natural language assertions expressed by users modelling ontologies.
Among other features for automatically discovering disjoint subclasses, Vlker et al. (2007), have intuitively
identified two linguistic patterns in line with Hearsts (1992) for the English language:
a) A pattern that contains the conjunction ...eitheror / neithernor This conjunction indicates that the
introduced concepts do not allow sharing instances, as they belong to only one of two groups.
b) A pattern based on enumerations. This pattern assumes that whenever users enumerate a set of concepts,
these are pair wise disjoint.
There is no doubt that the function words either or neither undoubtedly refer to disjoint classes. Then, it can be
stated that whenever the system comes across that conjunction, it will straightforward model knowledge units as
subclass of relation and disjoint classes in the ontology. For this purpose, we have created new patterns that
directly identify both relations. See TABLE 2 below.
LSP-Subclass of + Disjoint classes-English

LSP Identifier

NP<superclass> be | CATV either NP<subclass> or NP<subclass>

NP<superclass> be | CATV neither NP<subclass> nor NP<subclass>

1 Animals are either vertebrates or invertebrates.

TABLE 2. LSPs for the subclass of plus disjoint classes ontological relations

According to the enumeration assumption, we could contend that the identified LSPs 3, 4 and 5 for the subclass
of relation (see TABLE 1) could also be regarded as patterns indicating additionally that subclasses are pair wise
disjoint. In order to validate this statement we analysed the use of some verbs of classification in the British
National Corpus3 (BNC). The verb forms searched in the BNC were: classified into, divided into, split into and
separated into. Although this is an ongoing research, at this stage we observed that out of the sentences
retrieved with the meaning of "subclass of"4 (50 sentences analysed for each verb form), between 80% and 90%
clearly expressed disjoint subclasses according to domain knowledge. This statement was further supported by
the fact that sentences often included a cardinal number as well as adjectives like distinct or separate
accompanying class names, e.g.:
Covalent crystals are classified into two distinct groups
Government institutions are divided into two separate scientific communities
The results of this initial analysis confirm that when users provide an enumeration of subclasses, these are
normally pair wise disjoint. Nevertheless, in order to cope with the remaining 10% to 20% of cases in which
information about disjointness was not so clear, a system to interact with the user has been planned. This will
enable users to become aware of the relevance of making explicit that sort of information when modelling
Thus, our system formulates some questions in order to find out whether subclasses are disjoint. Taking as
example sentence 2 Membrane proteins are classified into two major categories: integral proteins and peripheral
proteins, the question launched by the system would be:
Can a certain membrane protein belong to the category of integral proteins and peripheral proteins at the
same time?
In this case, the answer should be no, and the system would further model those subclasses as disjoint classes.
If the answer is yes, it would just model them as subclasses of membrane proteins.

2 The need of making explicit information about disjointness and exhaustiveness is necessary in ontology paradigms following
Description Logics, because they rely on an open world assumption.

4 Note that some of these verbs (e.g. divide in/into) are ambiguous and could also indicate a part-whole relation. For more
information, see (Montiel-Ponsoda, et al., 2008, and Aguado de Cea et al., 2008).

Regarding exhaustiveness, whenever there is a cardinal number, as in example 2, we can be nearly sure that the
enumeration is complete. However, if this cardinal is not present in the sentence, one option to find out whether
the listed classes are exhaustive could be by answering the following question posed by the system:
Are there any other types of membrane proteins?
According to our knowledge of the domain, the question should be no, in order to be completely sure that the
right modelling decision is to further model those classes as exhaustive classes.
In this paper we have tried to show how grammatical collocations can provide interesting hints about the
conceptual relations underlying them. In fact, these combinations of lexical items have been used in fields like
Terminology and Ontology Engineering with the purpose of automatically extracting data for accelerating
respectively terminology tasks and ontology development. However, with this new approach to what we have
called Lexico-Syntactic Patterns (LSPs), we aim at applying lexical combinations to help users who are not
experts in ontology engineering to develop ontologies by formulating in NL what they want to model. In order to
support the system for an automatic identification of LSPs corresponding to ontological relations, we have
developed a repository of LSPs associated to ontological relations that make up the core of the system. In this
paper, we have focused on those LSPs expressing the "subclass of" ontological relation, and have pointed out the
semantic differences between the lexical combinations expressing this relation and the equivalent ontological
relation, since the latter needs to be further specified with information about disjointness and exhaustiveness. As
explained in the paper, some lexical elements may help to directly identify these specifications. Notwithstanding,
with the aim of validating and making explicit these properties of the subclass of relation, user interaction with
the system has been devised. Future work will be centred on enriching this initial repository of LSPs, putting
special emphasis on the discovery of disparities between lexical and ontological relations.
Acknowledgements. This research has been supported by the European project NeOn (FP6-027595), and the
National project GeoBuddies (TSI2007-65677C02).
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